Saltergill Woods and Beck by Alistair
MAP REF LANDRANGER 93 410 103 ( 2 KM WEST OF KIRKLEVINGTON)
The site comprises a mixture of woodland, scrub, semi improved pasture, pasture,
arable and watercourse at the very western edge of Cleveland.
The woodland is an eclectic mixture of mature oak, beech and ash with areas of over
mature hawthorn scrub and hazel. In some areas there has been extensive recolonisation
by birch and ash containing many dying trees. The beck is in some areas over hung
by trees and in other it flows through sheep pasture with a few alders and steeply
eroded banks. Good views are obtainable from the public footpaths or off the rough
The site has been recently famous for sightings of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in
the spring, but there is no reason to suppose that patient study of winter tit flocks
would not be rewarding too. I recall accidentally finding a Hawfinch nest building
in 1973, Tree pipits were there until the early 1980s, Wood Warblers were there
still about that time too. Up until 10 years ago I remember Turtle Dove being present
and Woodcock roding in the evenings. With the exception of wintering Woodcock, these
species are now absent.
It is not all bad news, however. Green Woodpeckers have re appeared and good old
Great Spotted make three! Nuthatch is regular too (and I always feel and local woodland
supporting this bird is well worth checking for the elusive Lesser Spots too e.g.
Leven/Weary Bank, Stewarts Park) but I digress. As well as the common tits, Marsh
Tit breeds there and Willow Tit is heard infrequently. Tree Creeper nests there
too in the fragmenting birch trees. Sparrow Hawk breed most years and display chasing
can be observed by sitting quietly.
Down stream, just outside the county the beck is open and runs through grazed pasture.
There is a small colony of Sand Martins and Kingfisher regularly feed there and
sometimes breed too. When the Tees is in flood, female Goosanders feed synchronously
in the breeding season. I have also seen otter tracks under the bridge, but for
birding purposes, the best way to view is from a vehicle in the lay-by north of
the beck, looking downwards.
A walk along the rough track which runs North / South will yield the usual summer
warblers, with the occasional Sedge Warbler if rape is sown in the adjacent arable
fields. I always hear Lesser White Throat at the southern end of the track at Forest
Lane in the area of the Tree Sparrow colony. There is usually a temporary pond in
an adjacent field which attracts summering Lapwing and a pair of Oystercatchers.
Always keep an eye upwards for Buzzard overhead as these BOPs are getting more common
in the west of the county as they colonise the Tees valley from upstream.
Botanically speaking, the old meadow area has been greatly spoiled by addition of
fertilizer but Early Purple Orchids flower in varying numbers each year in the west
The field hedges are interesting, having been surveyed and classified as ancient,
with the presence of the classic indicator species of Hazel, Field Maple, Dogwood,
Burnet Rose and Guilder Rose.
The usual butterflies of meadows are to be found in season, and Speckled Wood has
settled in well in the last couple of years.
On the mammals scene, I have recorded Brown Hares with mental ill health in spring
in the fields, Fox, Roe Deer, Weasel and Stoat. The bats certainly need to be checked
by some person with the proper kit to differentiate all the small fluttery jobs,
but I have seen Daubentons on the stream and once a passage of Noctules on their
way to the Tees. Interestingly the Wildlife Trust’s on- going mammals’ survey, has
a record of Muntjac Deer a few miles away. There are not too many pieces of woodland
cover in the area so one should be alert to the presence of this skulking little
The whole experience of wildlifing in this site, is to site quietly and only move
occasionally to another vantage position. Stick to the paths, as the birds are used
to peoples’ presence there. Trying to creep around furtively is pointless as the
local Jays will only mark down and the game is up.
Park tactfully, either in the road near the abandoned Saltergill School at the north
end of the track, or just off Forest Lane on the track at the south end.
Alistair McLee (January 2008)